When you’re making espresso, you’re going to taste a lot of different flavors. It’s important to know what to make of them so you can hone in on the good flavors, and avoid the bad ones.
Let’s explore espresso extraction from a flavor standpoint (check out this piece for a primer on extraction if you need). We’ll keep things simple and focus on three main things you’re going to taste: under-extraction, over-extraction, and balanced extraction.
Under extraction basically means that the water you used only pulled some of the flavor-making compounds out of your coffee.
From the perspective of flavor, you can expect under-extraction to taste sour, even salty. When you sip an under-extracted espresso, your whole face might pucker up as you taste the super dense, highly acidic shot.
You may also notice that it tastes very concentrated, and sits heavy on the tongue.
This probably means you are using too much coffee, or too little water. It’s also possible that the shot should have run for longer. You can also try a slightly coarser grind.
Author’s note: this may seem to conflict with what you’ve read in previous posts about extraction and grind size – and you’d be right! When it comes to espresso, the way that grind size effects the flow of water plays a huge role, and can lead to some confusing or even contradictory problems! Finer grinds do over-extract as a rule, however when your espresso grind is so fine that only a few drops of water make it through in 30 seconds, the results are still under-extracted!
Over-extraction means your water has taken too much out of the coffee. Beans only have so much good flavor to give, and if you get greedy you run into some problems!
Extracting too much tastes bitter, dry, ashy, and a host of other unpleasant flavors. This coffee also tends to feel thin, almost diluted on the tongue.
If you’re tasting these things, it’s likely because you have too little coffee or too little water, or perhaps your shot ran for too long! Alternately, if your grind is set too coarse, a lot of water can pass through your coffee and pull too much out!
The tricky thing about espresso is that great flavor exists between these two extremes. There’s a “sweet spot” where your shot will taste amazing, but if you miss the window you’ll find yourself disappointed!
This is where a precision grinder with micro-adjustments comes in handy: you can find the “sweet spot” in extraction with the aid of the “sweet spot” between grind settings!
Whether you like espresso that tastes like black tea and tangerine jam, or dark chocolate poured over a chunk of butter caramel, a balanced espresso will be your ticket to making it.
You know what the flavor notes on a bag of coffee mean, and you know what to expect in coffees from different parts of the world. Now, you’re armed with the most basic – and important – tool in bringing those flavors into your espresso. Knowing what under and over extraction taste like in espresso – and why you taste them – is a huge step in crafting spro like a pro!